Senior Japanese and Chinese diplomats agreed Monday to work on holding high-level talks, including mutual visits by their foreign ministers, to mend the strained bilateral relationship.
Deputy Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama met with Kong Xuanyou, China’s assistant foreign minister, to talk about pending issues, including a response to North Korea’s recent long-range rocket launch and nuclear test.
It was the first visit by a Chinese Foreign Ministry official to Japan since North Korea conducted its fourth nuclear test Jan. 6.
The meeting followed a failure of the two sides to arrange telephone talks between Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, in the wake of the nuclear test.
Amid mounting international pressure, China, the North’s biggest economic partner, last Thursday finally gave a green light to a draft resolution at the U.S. Security Council that would impose severe economic sanctions against Pyongyang.
At the beginning of Monday’s meeting, Sugiyama said that while the Japan-China relationship has improved, both countries need to exert more effort to move it forward. Ties between the two nations have been tense over the Senkaku Islands territorial dispute.
“There are various unresolved issues between Japan and China,” Sugiyama said. “That’s why it is important to have the forthcoming discussions.”
Kong agreed, and suggested a high-level meeting between State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Shotaro Yachi, head of the secretariat of the National Security Council, “when the timing is right for the both countries.”
Kong also delivered a message from Foreign Minister Wan Yi, saying they look forward to high-level talks to discuss unresolved issues between the two countries.
Yet it is unknown how much progress the two countries are likely to make. At the summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Premier Li Keqiang last November in Seoul, the two countries agreed to resume mutual visits of their foreign ministers and to hold the Japan-China high-level economic dialogue early this year. The meeting Monday fell short of scheduling such meetings.
Improvement in the bilateral relationship could be thrown off balance by China’s increased military activities in the South China Sea and the Paracel Islands, where its recent deployment of an advanced surface-to-air missile system and a radar system have drawn international criticism.
In response, China has cited the need to defend itself against the United States, which it claims pursues a militarization process of its own, and says it will make use of whatever equipment it likes on its own soil.
Japan has consistently maintained that it will not tolerate China’s unilateral efforts to change the status quo, and has been deepening security cooperation with countries in the region to keep Beijing in check.
In its latest move, Tokyo intends to lease retired Maritime Self-Defense Force TC-90 training aircraft to the Philippines to help improve its surveillance capabilities in the South China Sea, Kyodo News reported Monday, quoting government sources.
Tokyo and Manila are expected to officially sign an agreement over the MSDF aircraft, at Manila’s request, as early as April. Tokyo decided to lease them at a reduced price as it is unable under Japanese law to supply defense equipment to other countries without compensation.